KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Coming off one of the biggest wins in program history on Friday at No. 3 Georgia, ninth-ranked Kentucky showed no sign of a letdown in its next match, dominating No. 16 Tennessee 7-0 to tie the best Southeastern Conference start in school history on Sunday.
The victory was Kentucky’s (20-4, 8-0 SEC) 20th of the season, marking the third-consecutive season and the 18th time in school history UK has had 20 or more wins. UK head coach Dennis Emery, who is in his 30th year as head coach, has now led UK to 13 20-plus win seasons. The Wildcats have posted three consecutive 20-plus win seasons four different times in school history with this recent stretch being the third time under Emery.
“Obviously, we are very pleased with the way our team not only played today, but how they competed,” UK head coach Dennis Emery said. “Our coaching staff had some concerns about us having a hangover after the huge win at Georgia, especially mentally and with our fatigue. But our guys handled all of those distractions as well as I have seen us do it all year. I know I have said it before, but this truly was the best all-around performance for us this season.”
UK has now won eight consecutive matches to start league play, which ties the best start in school history. Kentucky’s 1988 team, which was also coached by Emery, also started league play 8-0. UK’s win continues its recent success in the SEC as the Wildcats have won 19 of their last 23 matches in league play dating back to last season. The Wildcats are currently first in the SEC ahead of Georgia and Mississippi State, who both sit at 7-1.
The victory for Kentucky was its first against Tennessee, who has won the last two regular-season SEC titles, since defeating the Vols twice in 2009. UK earned a key upset against No. 4 Tennessee in Knoxville on Feb. 21, 2009, before also defeating the Vols later that year in a regular-season dual match in Lexington. UT would avenge both losses by defeating the Wildcats in the 2009 SEC Tournament.
“We knew this was going to be a tough match today because Tennessee is such a great team and they were very hungry for the win,” Emery said. “Tennessee is really positioned well for the postseason because of how well they have played this year. We have a lot of respect for that program.”
Sunday’s result completes a very successful weekend for the Wildcats. Kentucky started the weekend with a thrilling 4-3 win against No. 3 Georgia, which marked its first win against Georgia in Athens, Ga., since 1997. The win against UGA was Kentucky’s first against a top-three ranked team since defeating No. 2 Virginia in Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 6, 2010.
The two wins continue Kentucky’s success over quality opponents this season as the Wildcats have defeated a top-25 ranked team in three of their last four matches. UK is now 8-3 on the year against teams that are currently ranked in the top 25, while it has posted an impressive 27 wins against top-25 teams since the start of the 2009 season.
The Wildcats started the match with a very impressive performance in doubles, moving Kentucky to 14-0 this season when it wins the doubles point. Sophomores Alejandro Gomez and Tom Jomby were the first to finish, dominating Brandon Fickey and Bryan Swartz 8-3 at court three. Tennessee would even the winning at court two when Jarryd Chaplin and Edward Jones defeated UK’s Anthony Rossi and Alex Musialek 8-5.
Court one would be the decisive point in doubles between UK’s No. 17 Eric Quigley and Panav Jha and Tennessee’s No. 8 Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese. Quigley and Jha earned an early break in the match to go up 3-1, before the talented UT duo erased the break midway through the match. With the score tied 5-5, Quigley and Jha earned another break and then held serve to go up 7-5. UT would hold serve to cut the UK lead to 7-6 before Quigley and Jha were able to fight off break point to hold on for 8-6 win.
UK played very well in singles action, winning on all six courts to finish off the 7-0 victory. Doubles and the beginning of singles play was played outdoors before rain in the Knoxville area moved play inside. Quigley, who is ranked seventh in the nation in singles, began the action with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Libietis at No. 1 singles. The win continues Quigley’s impressive season as the senior is now 18-1 in dual matches and an unblemished 8-0 against SEC foes.
Sophomore Grant Roberts finished just behind Quigley, giving Kentucky a 3-0 lead when he took down Swartz 6-1, 6-3 at court six. Roberts, a native of Lexington, Ky., has had a very strong spring, posting a 7-2 mark at No. 6 singles, including a 4-1 record against SEC competition
Kentucky clinched the match behind a solid performance at No. 2 singles from Musialek, who is ranked 18th in the nation in singles. Musialek grabbed the first set from No. 92 Reese 6-3 before controlling the second set 6-0 to earn the win. Musialek, who became the 14th player in school history to earn more than 100 career singles wins, is now 11-4 in dual matches and 5-2 in the SEC this spring.
Three singles matches remained on court when Musialek clinched the victory for Kentucky. UK would earn wins on all three courts. Gomez moved the score up to 5-0 when he took down Jones in straight sets 7-6, 6-4 at court five, before No. 91 Jomby eared the sixth point of the match with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win at court four over Chaplin. No. 22 Rossi completed the sweep with a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 win over Fickey at court three.
Tennessee (12-10, 4-4 SEC) entered Sunday on a four-match winning streak after it started the weekend with a home win against Vanderbilt.